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Blood Tribe issues local state of emergency after 30 drug overdoses in a week

The Blood Tribe issued a local state of emergency Friday after an unusual spike in overdoses that left at least one person dead.

After horrific spate of overdoses, none reported overnight Thursday

Chief Roy Fox of the Blood Tribe says frontline workers on the reserve have been "going beyond their call of duty" in combating the overdose crisis. (CBC)

The Blood Tribe issued a local state of emergency Friday after an unusual spike in overdoses that left at least one person dead.

The southern Alberta band hopes the measure will attract more money and staff to a community that has been pushed to the brink.

After an emergency meeting in Lethbridge, Blood Tribe Chief Roy Fox said the band's government has pledged a minimum of $750,000 to help front-line workers care for people in distress.

Frontline staff overworked

Police, paramedics and other staff on the reserve have been overworked as they responded to 30 overdoses in the past week, Fox said.

"Many of our frontline workers have been going beyond their call of duty in combating this crisis," he said. "With the additional resources, we hope to bring in additional trained people to carry on that kind of work."

Police believe a batch of especially toxic drugs emerged in Lethbridge and surrounding communities, such as the Blood Tribe First Nation, leading to an acute overdose crisis that was unusual, even in a province where roughly two people are dying a day from fentanyl overdoses.

Lethbridge first responders handled more than 50 overdoses in a week, though there could be some overlap with cases reported on the Blood reserve.

Help coming for Blood Tribe

Declaring a state of emergency gives the crisis response a higher priority and shows surrounding communities "the Blood Tribe is in distress," said Rick Tailfeathers, who handles communication for the chief and council.

So far, help is coming, including an ambulance from the Siksika Nation and 200 additional overdose-reversing Naloxone kits from the province.

Kevin Cowan, head of the Blood Tribe's health department, said the band's response so far is having an impact. With only one confirmed death on the reserve in the last week, Cowan believes there could have been many more if the community hadn't been well-prepared.

"It's a terrible crisis. Everybody's working hard, and there's a lot of hurt and pain in the community. And we see that," Cowan said. "But we're saving lives."

Police investigations lead to arrests

Police Chief Kyle Melting Tallow said the force has drained its reserve of Naloxone, from 80 vials to 30, in a week. He said officers have been working overtime investigating the sources of toxic drugs believed to be responsible for the overdose crisis.

Melting Tallow said information his officers collected led to arrests in other communities for alleged drug trafficking.

"It will help diminish the flow of drugs into the community, and we can focus on getting back to being healthy," he said.

Overdose numbers fall

There has been other good news for a community that's in desperate need of it — no overdoses Thursday night.

Similarly, Lethbridge first responders reported four overdoses from Wednesday to Friday, which is roughly in line with what they normally see, said Dana Terry, deputy chief of fire and EMS operations for the city.

"It certainly comes as a relief to us," Terry said. "Those few days that we had that many calls was certainly significant and created additional stress on our crews and our service.

"It can always come back up. We've seen that it can happen, and so there is always the possibility that it can happen again."

Despite all the heartache and stress of the past week, Fox said he's proud that members of his band came forward to help in whatever way they could.

"Even though it is a sad situation, I really feel good in the way that everyone has come together."

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